I recently picked up the phone to chat with Matthew Aaron and Bruce Fretts about landlines, the normalization of queer characters in entertainment and their new film. “Landline“ follows PR executive Ted Gout (Matthew Aaron), who, after losing a big promotion to a technology-savvy college graduate, embarks on a low-tech, old-school journey to find himself. With his husband and friends in tow, he gives up his cellphone and WiFi to return to a simpler time.
Almost as if it were staged, our phone call got off to a bit of a rocky start with Matthew dipping in and out of the conversation due to bad reception. When he was abruptly disconnected, I couldn’t help but throw out the most obvious bad joke I could think of: “I guess he wasn’t calling from a landline.” After patting myself on the back for that little slice of comic genius, I took a moment to revel in the irony of interviewing the cast of a film called “Landline” and then having the call drop out. I’m coming for your gig, Alanis.
While Matthew was incommunicado, undoubtedly climbing to the top of the nearest pole to grab a few bars, Bruce Fretts and I spoke a little bit about how he ended up in this role. No stranger to the entertainment scene, given his job as an entertainment writer for the New York Times and his long run at TV Guide, Bruce has been in and around cameras most of his career. And while not an actor per se, that certainly didn't stop Matthew from writing a part into the film specifically for Bruce. Fretts plays a small but important role in the film, the cable guy named K. Hommel who inevitably installs that delightfully retro landline.
Having found a sweet spot of cellphone reception in between Jamie Foxx and Tom Selleck’s houses, Matthew pinged back into the conversation just as Bruce and I started discussing the LGBTQ component of the film. As it turns out, Matthew’s character, Ted Gout, was originally intended to be straight. It wasn’t until the actress who had signed on to play to his wife had scheduling issues that interfered with the filming at Wrigley Field that the script was flipped and the part was opened up to male actors.
"The only snafu there was, I forgot that I should probably run this by Major League Baseball," said Matthew. "So I ran it by MLB and shockingly to me, zero issues with it at all. They were all on board. Part of the reason I originally cast a female, I gotta tell you, I didn't have the balls. I did not think that we would ever have a shot at making one of our films with an LGBTQ lead with the MLB. It wasn't until we got into a crunch, that I thought let's at least try."
Whether inadvertent or not, Matthew’s choice to change his character to a gay man made history, as “Landline” subsequently became the first film with queer characters to earn licensing support from a national sports league. Up until then, the closest we came to gays and baseball being in the same film was “A League of Their Own.” Shout out to my girls Madge and Rosie!
As the conversation went on, it quickly became apparent that Matthew was not a fan of labels as he was hesitant to call his films "LGBTQ," despite having always featured queer characters and even making a conscious effort to hire performers from within the community. His approach to inclusiveness in his films echoes the desire of many community members to see the normalization of queer characters in their entertainment.
"There are always going to be people who are making films about being gay," he says. "But I think it is more important for me to make films about LGBTQ characters in this inclusive society that we live in. Where it's less of an issue and more of a 'just is.'" Matthew goes on to say, "I think we need find ways to be who we are, but also connect to other people in order to really start progressing and make a difference."
So, in closing, grab your crazy Uncle Mo who loves baseball but is still a little confused by the whole “gay thing,” and sit him down with this film. OK, I jest. But seriously, whether you’re gay or straight, like baseball or not, “Landline” offers a refreshing perspective for fans of diverse and inclusive entertainment. Bonus points if you walk away spending less time on Instagram and more time connecting the “old-fashioned” way.
“Landline” (available now On Demand) stars Matthew Aaron, Tom Arnold (“Roseanne“), Nick Searcy (“Justified”), Jim O’Heir (“Parks and Recreation”), Betsy Brandt (“Breaking Bad”), James DuMont (“Trumbo”), Louis Lombardi (“24”), Jay Washington (“Chi-Raq”) and entertainment journalist, Bruce Fretts.
Comment below or take to social media with #XFINITYLGBTQ to let us know what you think of “Landline.“
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